There’s nothing like a selection of midweek fixtures to add further drama to what is developing into a fascinating season. Chelsea underlined their dominance this weekend, opening up an imposing seven point lead that will prove difficult for the reigning champions to overhaul. Chelsea host Everton in a game that will hopefully recapture some of the magic of the crazy reverse fixture at the Goodison, a game that saw Chelsea win 6-3. The Spurs-Liverpool game should provide a fantastic spectacle while there are plenty of relegation scraps that could determine the futures of various managers.
The ambiguity surrounding Nigel Pearson’s apparent termination reflects the turbulence of the modern game. Leicester have issued a statement saying that Pearson is still their manager, indicating the dangers of jumping the proverbial gun in assessing the vast media maelstrom. Despite losing at the weekend, the Foxes are hardly cut adrift from the pack and need only a few results to pull a West Brom-esque Houdini act. Arsenal’s defeat to Spurs confounded me. Arsenal, usually frugal in possession, gave up massive chunks of the ball and were outplayed across the park. The decision to omit Theo Walcott from the starting line-up was strange considering last week’s performance and I’m sure that his inclusion will prove decisive against a labouring Leicester defence. Also, Alexis Sanchez looks set to return to the side. Take the Gunners to win at 3/10.
Hull City’s point at the champions may have been just the catalyst they need in order to sustain a survival charge. Steve Bruce has had to put his alchemy skills to the test in a season ravaged by injury. Jelavic and Hernandez have proved dangerous when fit, but it is the powerful midfield presence of Diame who has been most sorely missed. Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side did the unthinkable this weekend; they scored. They have however remained in stagnation following another home defeat and time must be running out for the endurance test known as the Villa-Lambert experiment. Both of these sides have battled to find the score sheet and while I’m tempted to fancy the Hull victory, perhaps the more prudent option would be adjudging this as a low goal affair. Under 2.5 goals at 9/20 will do.
Sunderland retained their ‘Heavyweight Champions of the Draw’ title at the weekend. Gus Poyet has been fortunate in the sense that there are various other clubs experiencing greater trouble than his this season. Sunderland are just far too one dimensional. Fletcher is always good for a goal or two but they are overly reliant on the foraging runs of Johnson and the dead-ball ability of Larsson. QPR’s dreary season was exacerbated this weekend with a controversial loss at home to Southampton. Les Ferdinand, the new director of football at QPR, will be identifying this as the perfect opportunity to end their sequence of terrible away results. I don’t really know why I’m leaning in this direction, but I will always maintain that QPR have been slightly unfortunate this year. Even without injured Charlie Austin, I expect QPR to beat a Sunderland team no better than their opponents. Pounce on the away side at an alluring 31/10.
Both of these sides head into this encounter on the back of revitalised form and gathering momentum. Liverpool’s Couthino and Sterling have been poetic at times while Daniel Sturridge’s slow reintegration into the side has bolstered the attack at just the right time. Spurs have finally found their identity through the midfield mastery of Christian Eriksen and the powerful presence of Harry Kane. Kane continually defies expectations, showing a positional awareness and cunning beyond his age. Spurs may be hot right now, but I can’t help but think back to the reverse fixture at White Hart Lane, where Sterling and Sturridge decimated the Spurs side. Liverpool’s pace on the counterattack will be too much and are decent value at 8/10.
Manchester United were quite frankly dire at West Ham and were lucky to escape with a point. Louis Van Gaal seems utterly confused as to what formation he wants to play. Rooney was marooned in a deep midfield position while Angel Di Maria was forced to play in a narrow diamond that completely nullified his pace. Luke Shaw’s suspension will mean yet another defensive reshuffle, news which will encourage the undeniably talented Burnley attack. Burnley squandered a two-goal lead again in what has become a slightly familiar pattern for the Turf Moor faithful. Danny Ings and Ashley Barnes were once again instrumental while their defensive naivety re-emerged. They seem to get sucked into the situation, unable to divorce themselves from the immediacy of the moment when they should perhaps contain and hold on to what they have. While I don’t think Burnley have it in them to win this one, they may be able to sneak a draw and throw further scrutiny on Van Gaal’s schizophrenic managerial approach. However, at 1/14, the United or Draw Double Chance is far too short. I prefer Manchester United to be leading at half-time. Back them on the HT result at 15/20.
Southampton were fortunate to escape Loftus Road with all three points but will be delighted to have retained third spot from a floundering Manchester United. Ronald Koeman’s team possess that integral ability to pick up points in games where they don’t manage to flow. West Ham, without the physical presence of Andy Carroll who failed a late fitness test, were excellent against United this weekend. Sakho and Valencia were a constant threat while Stewart Downing’s delivery was consistently dangerous. This promises to be a fantastic match-up, pitting two European hopefuls from slightly different ideological perspectives against one another. Southampton have not been brilliant in recent times and I feel that West Ham could throw the entire European race wide open this weekend, especially if Carroll returns to augment the attack. Back the Hammers for an away win at a huge 38/10.
Chelsea have navigated the suspension of Diego Costa expertly while Hazard and Oscar have added an extra attacking dimension to their game in his absence. It is their consistency that seems to be leading them towards title glory; that coupled with a pervasive goal threat that spans the entire side. Everton were gallant in their dreary Merseyside draw with Liverpool, displaying a tenacity that has been missing in Martinez’s side thus far this season. Everton’s midfield will likely be terrorized by the sheer mobility of this impressive Chelsea unit. Grab Chelsea on the outright at 7/20.
Peter Crouch’s spectacular header not only secured Stoke a point at Newcastle, it rounded off a truly remarkable weekend of headed efforts in the Barclays Premier League. Stoke’s midfield of N’Zonzi and Whelan are properly combative and will look to contain the returning threat of newly crowned African Champion Yaya Toure. Manchester City’s lacklustre home draw against Hull was in some ways a microcosm of their entire season thus far. While they enjoyed huge amounts of possession, they were unable to consistently create excellent opportunities. Chelsea are more efficient in front of goal and this could prove another tough fixture for Pellegrini’s side. Stoke are on a fine run and could knock the final nail in City’s title coffin. Take the Potters on the Double Chance at 21/20.
Alan Pardew’s fairy-tale relationship with Crystal Palace continued at the weekend with another hard fought draw. Now, as if the script could have been written any better, Newcastle come into town in an attempt to foil Pardew’s new found lease on life. The relationship between Pardew and the Newcastle fans was a turbulent one, thwart with tremendous highs and dire lows. John Carver will be pleased that Newcastle seem to have rediscovered some joy in recent weeks. There seems to be a reinvigorated enthusiasm in the players, with youngsters such as Cabella and Perez thriving with greater responsibility. There will be no love lost here and this should prove to be a cracker. However, I expect Sanogo and Zaha to harass a Newcastle side who looked slightly laboured in the closing moments this weekend. Crystal Palace at 5/4 is the tip.
Tony Pulis’ West Brom side cannot be faulted for courage following their breathless come from behind draw with Burnley. Chris Brunt was imposing in midfield while Berahino continues to provide the creative spark for the side. Swansea limped along to a draw that sees them remain fairly static in mid-table mediocrity. The loss of Bony has limited the attacking dimension of Gary Monk’s side, necessitating a slightly more pragmatic playing style that slightly limits the abilities of Routledge and Sigurdsson. Ashley Williams has been immense of late and I feel that this game will be one for the defenders. Take Under 2.5 goals at 11/20. West Brom and Swansea will both set out to not lose this one, resulting in a congested fixture devoid of real quality.
10-leg English Premier League Multiple Price - 1138/1
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